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Game Design Secrets by Wagner James Au

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Learning from Kingdom of Loathing, the Indie Cult RPG

A deliriously wacky, free-to-play, turn-based Indie RPG that’s also a parody of RPGs, where players choose character classes like Seal Clubber instead of warrior, Kingdom of Loathing launched in 2003 and is illustrated with stick figures (see Figure 9-1). Soon after its launch, the game steadily gained a cult following.

Figure 9-1: Asymmetric Productions’ Kingdom of Loathing

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Despite its relatively small player base, the game remains successful.

Created by Asymmetric Productions, which was founded by Zack “Jick” Johnson and Josh “Mr. Skullhead” Nite, the company now employs five full-time workers.

According to a recent interview on Reddit with Nite, Kingdom of Loathing—known as KoL—has about 45,000 monthly players. “There have been over 2 million accounts created since the game began [in 2003],” he says, “so there are a lot of people who should be coming back.” The game monetizes with donations and virtual goods sales. And, says Nite, the game is still “quite profitable.”

Despite their success, KoL’s creators learned two important principles of game design through trial and error. These lessons and more secrets are covered in the following sections.

Players Will Exploit Game Resources in Unintended Ways

“It never occurred to me that people would use an item or enchantment in any way other than the way I envisioned it,” ...

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